George Takei took center stage Thursday night at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium in front of a sold out crowd of nearly 3,000 people. Presented by the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance and SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, Takei spoke honestly about his childhood experiences living in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. He also spoke about the challenges of remaining a closeted gay actor at the height of his popularity playing Lieutenant Sulu on the Star Trek series.
Takei was five years old when he and his family were forced to relocate from their home in Los Angeles to internment camps in Arkansas and northern California. He described being transported by train and seeing families wave from behind barbed wire fences when they arrived at the camp. His childhood innocence protected him from the devastating reality he later understood his parents had endured.
“For my parents to take their three young children into a horse stall and have to live there for a couple of months while the barbed-wire concentration camps are being built,” said Takei. “It must have been a humiliating and painful experience for [my parents].”
His family returned to Los Angeles after the war. Takei’s resilience and idealism found a path to the Civil Rights movement led by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His father played a part in instilling Takei with a sense of activism and pride in the American democracy.
“I learned about American democracy from the man in our family who suffered the most, bore the burden and the anguish of that imprisonment,” said Takei referring to his father. “…my father was the one that said we have to be actively engaged in our society.”
Takei’s activist spirit made him an excellent choice as the first speaker for the Museum’s 2017 Upstander Speaker Series. Recently, he has vocalized his concerns regarding the first weeks of President Trump’s term, such as the executive order he signed banning Muslim refugees from entering the U.S.
“This story of the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the second World War is very relevant to our times today.”
Sitting in the audience near Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins, sat George’s husband and partner of over 30 years, Brad Takei.
As a gay actor in the 1960’s, Takei quickly learned that his sexual orientation could end his career before it even began. He spent the next few decades in constant fear of exposure, and he cautiously played the role of a heterosexual male on and off screen.
When Takei chose to come out to the public as a homosexual, his career continued to flourish. A fierce supporter of LGBTQ rights, Takei fought for marriage equality and continues to stand up against hatred and prejudice.
“You have to actively participate [in our society] to change it, to make it better.”
We are grateful that the Upstander Speaker Series is supported by The Dallas Morning News and sponsors for this event included the Orchid Giving Circle. Thank you Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce for being our community partner.
Photo: Amanda Lynn Photography
– Janet Montealvo, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance